Ammonites are the fossilized, hard shells of extinct mollusks. Their closest relative is the chambered Nautilus from the Pacific and Indian oceans. The generic name, ammonite, was given centuries ago, because of its resemblance to the ram-like horns of Ammon, the Egyptian god of life and reproduction.
The Navajos and other Indians of the North American Plains carried ammonites in their medicine bags for health and good hunting. Some of these ammonites were just weathered fragments. They were called buffalo stones, because of their resemblance to the North American bison.
Colourful Canadian ammonites come from the southern part of the province of Alberta just east of the Rocky Mountains. Ammonites are found all over the world in rock formations from 225 to 65 million years ago. Although there are several locations, such as Russia and England, where ammonites can be found with some colour, only in southern Alberta and to a lesser degree in northern USA, can ammonites be found with vivid colours that take on all the hues of the rainbow.
Canadian ammonites are rare. The Canadian government considers them part of the “National Treasures of Canada”. For this reason, all ammonites must be inspected and registered by the Alberta provincial government. Each ammonite then receives a number and is entered in the provincial database. A cultural property export permit, with the name and address of the buyer, is required before any Canadian ammonite is allowed to leave the country.
When purchasing a colourful Canadian ammonite, be sure that the specimen number is registered with the government of Canada. If you live outside Canada, be sure to ask if it left Canada with a cultural property export permit.
The many colours in our ammonites are created in the same way that colours are created in opal gemstones. Light is deflected through the numerous layers of aragonite that make up the outer shell. It is believed that the colour is enhanced and intensified by traces of the metals iron and copper as well as the mineral silica. It is also playfully referred to as “grandmother of pearl”. Each colour in Ammolite represents a different layer of the gem material. So, depending on the number of fine layers in the rough, everything from one colour to the full visible spectrum can be displayed. Since the play of light varies, every Ammolite gem shows a unique array of colour. .
Colourful Canadian ammonites are cherished by collectors and are on display at most of the prominent museums in the world. Prices are determined first by the quality and brightness of the colours present, then by the size and finally by the shape of the ammonite. Prices can range from less than $1000 for a small ammonite with little colour to more than $100,000 for a very large ammonite with bright colours and very good shape.